60-Second Health

Laser Light Coaxes Damaged Rodent Tooth Repair

Low-power laser light shined on damaged rat teeth activates growth factors that cue stem cells to generate the tooth constituent dentin, leading to regeneration.  Dina Fine Maron reports


Ouch! About a quarter of all school-age kids will break or otherwise damage a tooth.  Adults have their share of cracked chompers, too.
But what if fixing a busted bicuspid was as easy as zapping it with a laser? Preliminary work with young rats has moved dentistry a small step in that direction. A new study finds that shining a low-power laser on damaged rat teeth activates molecular growth factors already present in the tissue. These growth factors cue stem cells to generate dentin, the bonelike substance that teeth are mostly made of.
Researchers also found that when mice were missing those growth factors or when the factors were blocked from working, the stem cells would not regenerate dentin when exposed to laser light. That finding confirms the important role these signaling pathways play in dental development. The study, led by David Mooney at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, is in the journal Science Translational Medicine. [Praveen R. Arany et al, Photoactivation of Endogenous Latent Transforming Growth Factor–β1 Directs Dental Stem Cell Differentiation for Regeneration]
Could a light-based treatment for cavities and chipped teeth eventually be in the offing for people? The researchers plan to investigate that possibility for human teeth, both baby and adult. But until then, chew carefully. And don’t lead with your chin.
—Dina Fine Maron
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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